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What To Do If You Are Feeling Powerless

Lori Freson


In today’s politically charged climate, it is easy to feel strong emotions. It doesn’t matter which party you align with or what you believe in; strong opinions and emotions can be invoked in anyone.

You might feel strongly in support of or against any number of policies and events occurring on a daily basis. Having strong feelings about something and feeling that you can’t do anything about it can be extremely frustrating and often leaves a person feeling completely powerless.

Furthermore, these strong positions and feelings can often cause problems within families and other personal relationships (think Thanksgiving dinner with Uncle Bob or water cooler talk at work). You are not as powerless as you think, and you do not have to let differing views harm your relationships.

Here are some tips for how to handle feeling powerless and for protecting your family and relationships:

  1. Learn to set clear boundaries and enforce them. A boundary is a hard line that you set which cannot be crossed. If the line is crossed, then your boundary has been violated. Boundaries command respect. Anyone who violates your boundaries lacks respect for you, and you might want to consider ending your relationship with anyone who doesn’t respect you. Boundaries can include certain topics being off limits, certain words or slogans not spoken around you, certain behaviors not tolerated, and so forth. In order for boundaries to be respected, they must be stated clearly. If someone accidentally crosses the line, or gets close to the line, a quick but firm reminder ought to suffice. Anyone who chooses not to stop at that point is actually a jerk. Walk away or end the conversation at that point. This is the only way to enforce your personal boundaries.
  2. Keep communication clear, kind, and succinct. It is okay to state your opinion or feelings about something, but you don’t need to go on and on about it, especially if you know it is upsetting to your partner or someone else whom you actually care about. People are allowed to, even supposed to, have differing views on things. It is what makes us human, and demonstrates our abilities to think and discern. You can still respect someone and their opinions and feelings even if they are polar opposite from yours. You can say things like, “Hmmm. That’s quite a different view than I have on this matter. You are entitled to your opinion, just as I am entitled to have mine” or “Wow. We really see this issue differently. That makes sense given our different personal histories”. You don’t need to try to convince anyone that you are right and they are wrong. That only leads to arguments and damages your relationships. Nobody wins.
  3. Use those moments that illicit strong reactions from you to teach your children your family’s values. Teach your children where you stand about important issues, such as immigration, abortion, foreign policy, war, the poor, the homeless, our vets, legalization of marijuana, tax policy, and so much more. These are conversations you should be having in age-appropriate ways from the time they are little and forever after. Get involved in causes you believe in and take your children with you. Explain why you take the positions you take, and encourage your children to think for themselves. As they gain more and more knowledge, they will ultimately make their own decisions as to where they stand, and you will hopefully respect that. But, in the meantime, your children will learn more from you than from any teacher they will ever have.
  4. Use differences of opinions as a way to teach your children respect and problem-solving skills. Show them how two people can have opposing views, but still love and respect one another. Let them hear you share you differing views without arguing. If things get heated, demonstrate for them how to diffuse the intensity without anyone exploding. For example, you might say, “Wow. It is so heartbreaking to see these families being ripped apart at our borders.” Your husband might reply, “Well, they’re getting what they deserve. What did they think would happen if they came here illegally?”. You might then say, “Seeking asylum is not illegal, and there is no law that says children must be separated. Where is your compassion?” Your husband might say, “I don’t have compassion for criminals, and we can’t save the world.” This could go on and on and could get heated. Rather than getting in a huge fight that could have repercussions, at some point you might just say, “It seems like we are not going to agree on this one. We clearly have very different views about this issue, and that’s okay. But, I do think it is best if we end this conversation before either of us gets too emotional or says something we probably shouldn’t. Let’s just agree to disagree.”

It is important to remember, and to teach your children, that even when you feel most powerless, you usually aren’t. There is always some action you can take to help yourself feel like you’re making a difference. You can protest, you can vote, you can call or write lawmakers, and you can post on social media. Get involved and volunteer for an organization that is meaningful to you. In all of these ways, you hold more power than you think. Things will not always go as you wish, sometimes they will and sometimes they won’t. While you will need to accept this, you are never required to sit idly by.

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Lori Freson

Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas.